Friday, January 29, 2010

Running Toward the Fire

I’ve always been intrigued (or impressed, or curious) about a particular element in the training and philosophy of the military regarding combat. It goes like this: When you hear or see enemy fire, you run toward the fire. This counterintuitive approach is incredibly brave and inspiring to me and it’s a philosophy I’m attempting to live by as I face my own enemy fire of grief---run toward the pain and embrace it. I found myself in a coffee shop last week with a U.S. Marine. When I saw this soldier it crossed my mind that if I’m going to base my entire approach to grief on this military philosophy, I should confirm that this is indeed a real philosophy. So I invited him over to my table and asked if I could ask him a military question. He replied “yes sir” and stood in his “at ease” posture. I asked him about the “run toward the fire” approach. He confirmed that it was “absolutely” a building block in combat training, and added: “When you hear enemy fire, if you turn and run, it won’t get any easier. In fact, it will only get harder if you don’t run toward the fire.”

That’s all I needed.

And with that, that is what I’m attempting to do. When I know something will bring pain, or hurt, or cause me to cry, I will not avoid it. I will embrace it. I will embrace the pain, which will in turn, remind me of the beauty.

At least today, I say that.

This doesn’t mean that I’m cleaning out closets (unless it’s my own; I do find myself obsessed with organization these days, which is helping to fill my task-oriented brain with…well, tasks) or looking at scrapbooks every night. But it does mean that I will go on a ski trip in late February to Big Mountain in Montana---a trip that Dana and I had planned to do together. And I will do the moonlight ski that week (a full-moon activity on Big Mountain) with some of the greatest friends in the world. Dana did the moonlight ski a couple years ago on a girl’s (Flamingo!) retreat and has wanted to take me ever since.

I will run toward and embrace the pain.

And I will read my Bible. I will ski in and hike through mountains. I will smell lilacs in the spring. I will walk on the beach. I will cry. I will let it hurt. I’m learning that the pain of loss is directly proportional to the beauty of the relationship. That means I have a lot of pain to go. And I can resolutely say, it’s worth it.

Running toward the fire,

Monday, January 25, 2010

State of the Grief Address

Well, here we are. This past Saturday was the first 23rd of the month, as in the one month anniversary of Dane’s passing from here to There. This is the first time I’ve really noted any type of time increment; up till Saturday the days simply stacked one on top of the other and pretty much ran together, forming a giant blob of days. Now that we’ve hit some measurement of time, I thought it might be good to take a little stock, and with a nod to the upcoming presidential speech, give a state of the grief address. Or post.

First I’d like to point out the pix of Pud at the top of this post (I suppose this would be the State of the Union equivalent of pointing out a guest in the gallery). Dane and I had titled this cat position simply “Pud on his rampart.” This is the place where he looks out our picture window and watches for “interlopers” (Dane’s word) and keeps the house safe from birds, squirrels, and worst of all, other cats. Here’s what’s noteworthy about this position: This is one of his fave non-napping spots, which means he’s there every day, a good part of the day. When he jumped up on the piano a couple days ago, I realized it was the first time he had been in that position since Dane had passed. He took a three-week break from a routine that he did every day. This was as good as anything of an indication to me of his grief. Other routines have been okay. Fortunately, Pud, like me, hasn’t missed a meal.

What seems to pull me out of bed each morning is a strange sense of: What can I overcome today? And while I certainly haven’t overcome anything big, what I do overcome are the hard moments that I navigate every hour. Something might catch me off guard, or it might build up. Either of these leads to my fair share of wail-crying time. I’ve noticed what brings me out of these times is usually some nugget of truth: Dana is in her splendor; her tears are now being wiped by Jesus; God has a big picture plan. Thinking on these nuggets helps pull me out; and these nuggets help me resist spouting off a nicely crafted string of profanity. Sorry, but that’s the raw flesh feeling.

I think sometimes I get a slight sense of the enormity of my loss. When I do, I’m overwhelmed. Right now it seems to be coming in manageable doses. God is also graciously leading me to people who have experienced recent pain that’s either similar or nearly exactly like mine. That’s a gift.

Some of the grief moments come quick and are actually therapeutic. This morning I ran across a med bottle that simply reminded me of what an incredibly brave soldier Dana was. I had a teary moment, a nice remembrance, and kept moving. Other grief moments have tentacles attached to the enormity. Yesterday I found myself in a conversation that simply reminded me of the special (incredibly special) relationship that Dana and I had. That one took my breath away for awhile and I know will be one of the grief biggees over time. I’ve uncovered a few other biggees; we’ll unpack those as this blog rolls along.

You may have noticed a new link on the blog page. I’ve posted on Shutterfly the pictures we had rolling at the visitation and celebration service. Here’s a link to the site:

Feel free to comment, add photos, share stories, etc.

Thank you for your support, prayer, encouragement. I feel my Verizon Network in action!


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Speaking of God-stamp Collecting

Over the past few weeks, several folks have shared how, in one way or another, they received a reminder, or an impression, or even a dream about Dana. To me these are all part of the God-stamp collection, those stamps that are continuing to give us assurance of God's presence in this journey. In fact, we may need to do a special blog series documenting all the stamps. Dana’s best friend Pam posted a comment on the blog on January 12 about a special stamp. To make sure we all see it, I’m going to paste it in below; the picture of the “stamp” is at the top of this post. But before I share Pam’s post, I want to take a moment to comment on these stamps.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve not been one to be a sign seeker, which, to me, is what makes these stamps all the more powerful. And I also know that I am in a heightened state of spiritual and emotional awareness. It could be easy to make a sign out of anything (i.e., “Wow, these two French fries formed a cross; that must mean God’s going to raise Dana from the dead!”). But of all things that others have shared with me, and of all the signs that have ministered to me, there seems to be some near inexplicable element that obviously comes from the Divine.

I’ve been pondering that a bit these past days, and at the same time, reading a great book, The Voice that Calls You Home, given to me by my friend Scott. It was written by Andrea Raynor, someone with whom Scott went to high school. Andre is now a chaplain with hospice, and served as a chaplain at Ground Zero in those frightful days after September 11. Each chapter is an amazing story from her work. In one chapter she tells of driving to the home of a family whose eight-year old daughter was dying. As she drove to the home, a trip she’d made many times in ministering to the family in the weeks prior, she prayed for words of wisdom, comfort, assurance she could bring. She suddenly noticed a perfectly formed cloud in the exact shape of “a little girl in a dress, arms outstretched, legs running, hair flowing behind her.” Was Lila gone? she wondered. The only reason she would put stock in a cloud was that she had had a similar experience as a child, seeing the form of a friend in the clouds one day, and learning that night that the friend had passed away that day. Lila passed away the next morning.

So Andrea is a cloud-seeker. We have rainbows and deer and a growing list of other stamps from God in our journey. Sometimes we may wonder if this is real and valid. Andrea addressed this as she explained why she looked to the clouds:
The impulse to look up whenever I stepped outside was rooted in the expectation that, at any moment, I might receive a greeting from the Beyond in the form of clouds, or waving trees, or the face in the moon. The natural world was very alive—and not only was it mystical but it wanted to communicate its mysteries with whoever was willing to listen. Because of this, I never felt alone. I was being accompanied by a host of spiritual entities who were doing their best to
help me hear and see them.

The spiritual entities—angels, God, the Holy Spirit—are doing their best to help us hear and see them, to help us know that there really is more to existence than what we see, and to help us be assured of God’s presence in this journey.

So here then is Pam’s story, and the explanation behind the picture at the top of this post (Rose and Ed, mentioned below, are Pam’s in-laws, who live in Middletown and were visiting Pam and Doug in Nashville):

On the day after New Year’s day, I was on the deck putting food out for the birds. It was barely snow flurrying and a big snowflake came down right in front of my face and landed on the deck rail. It was so big and beautiful; I could see all the detail of its perfect form. There were lots of other flakes on the rail, but none nearly as big and obviously as perfect as this one. I had the thought, “I wonder if this is God reminding me of Dana’s perfection now.” It stayed for so long that I was able to take a picture of it. I showed it to Rose and all the others at my house, but didn’t mention my “God” thought. When Rose and Ed were leaving the next day Rose cried and said, “God sent us a message about Dana.” I counted that as a God stamp.

By the way, in Pam’s note to me when she sent the picture she mentioned that she wish she had moved the green cord. I’m actually glad it’s there; it gives us all perspective on how HUGE, and thus even more perfect, the snowflake is. And I LOVE Pam's take--a reminder that Dana is in her perfected state, her splendor, her "is."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Another Deer God-Stamp

By way of “grief update,” I think the analogy that speaks the best is simply a whipsaw (defined as “To cause to move or alternate rapidly in contrasting directions”). The thoughts go from processed to primal, from a sense of adventure (this is ever, ever so slight and fleeting) to wail-crying (not so fleeting, but helpful). And all of that can occur in a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds. I’ve begun some very helpful reading (A Grace Disguised and Heaven); next up are some classics like A Grief Observed, and the psalms.

Through all this though, God has certainly shown His hand. In fact, I think I’m starting a new hobby of stamp collecting. God-stamp collecting. Now that you know the story about the deer (if not, please see post of January 14 "The Deer Story") I think you’ll appreciate something that happened this week. It's another stamp for the collection.

This past Tuesday, after we had received some fresh snow a few days earlier, I had this spontaneous, kinda crazy thought pop into my mind (which is what spontaneous thoughts do): “I should head up to the cemetery to see what animal tracks are around Dane’s grave before the snow melts” And obviously, the act of looking for animal tracks is me fishing for a deer sighting of some sort. But I’d take any animal tracks in that Dane really did have a thing for animals of all/any kind: she knew where all the “kitties” lived on our street, she would cry at the sight of a road-kill deer (I would always assure her the deer lived a long, fruitful life), and she would commune with the zoo animals when we visited.

So, I was blown away when I drove up to the grave and saw three sets of tracks: two dog….and one deer. There were no other tracks throughout the cemetery, and to make it even more poignant, the deer tracks were leading out of the woods right up to Dane’s spot, and then double-backed the same path. It had every look of a thoughtful, intentional paying of respects.

Again, I don’t want to over-interpret. But for me to have the spontaneous thought about tracks in the snow (I don’t think in terms of animal tracks), and then for there to BE tracks in the snow, deer tracks at that, is an assurance of some sort.

I didn’t have my camera, so on my way home I asked my niece Maggie if she wouldn’t mind heading out there the next day for some pix. She sent an e-mail to me that night, with pictures attached, saying that because it was such a beautiful evening, she “grabbed her mama” (this would be my sister Beck) and her camera and went to the cemetery. I’ve posted these pix below (along with one I snapped the next day—I couldn’t resist a return trip).

I know we’re all hurting in some way. Maybe these pictures can be a God-stamp for you too.

The season premier of one of our fave shows, 24, is tonight. This will be another of those “firsts.”

Love to all!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Deer Story

I have to tell you about the deer. As I’ve teased, it’s the biggest God stamp yet in this journey (at least for me). For those who attended Dana’s celebration service (I’m still not used to certain possessive phrases such as Dana’s service, grave, arrangements, etc.), you heard the story. I’ll try to insert new information to keep it interesting!

This past spring two deer suddenly appeared in our backyard, a doe and her fawn (fawn pic above). Here’s the thing: we live in the middle of town. We’ve lived at this house 10 years and have NEVER had deer in our yard. But this spring they would lie down in the morning. Then they would leave for the day, go do deer kinds of things, and then came back in the evening. This went on for a few days, and they visited only our yard. Our neighbors jealously commented on this fact. Then Dana asked eerily: “What if the deer are here to take me to heaven?” She didn’t ask that in a “yeah, rah” manner, but more in a haunting, spooky way. The thought of heaven itself wasn’t spooky, but the thought of us not being together certainly was.

The spring visits from the deer lasted just a few days, but then later in the summer, around August, the deer came back. This time it was two, more mature, fawns (in the pic below). They would leave before Dana climbed out of bed each morning, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her they returned. They came about four days in a row. I was a bit freaked.

Fast forward now to September. We went into the hospital for treatment of the breast cancer’s spread, expecting to be there a few days. We were there for four weeks. We went from “you may need a walker when you get home,” to “you may need a bed downstairs” to “Hospice is an option” to “Hospice is the best option.” So after four weeks in the hospital, we came home with Hospice.

After we had been home for a few weeks I found myself running the range of emotions: confusion, fear…well actually I pretty much just ping-ponged between confusion and fear. Landing mostly on fear. One evening, after tucking Dane in and settling into my mattress on the living room floor beside Dane’s bed, I was desperate for some comfort. But more specifically, I was desperate for some comfort from Dane. It had been over a month since we had had meaningful, interactive Dane and Bear conversation. Then I remembered an article she had written three years earlier, when we had started this recurrence battle. I remembered the article contained several hymns that Dana had quoted. I was looking for that kind of comfort.

The article she wrote was entitled, “Kill the Deer.” [I will soon post the article so you can read the whole thing.]

It starts by Dana explaining the nature of the church we attended at the time, Crossroads in Cincinnati. Everything they did was cutting edge and if you heard a hymn there, you’d barely recognize it because it would have been “repackaged, reharmonized, rebuilt, repurposed, scrubbed, disinfected and dipped for fleas.” Dana went on to describe why this resonated with us: God was always doing a new thing and we should find inventive ways to follow God’s lead, lest we fall into meaningless ritual.

Dana recounted the story of a youth group that had gone to the well one too many times with the popular song “As the Deer Panteth for the Water.” It’s a song that always evoked response in kids. But one night after the song was sung, nothing happened. A student said what all were thinking: “It’s time to kill the deer.”

Dana wrote how this resonated with her.

As a “new song” kind of girl, I suppose I’ve also been something of a “kill the deer” girl. I may not know much, but I do know when it’s time to move on.

And here is how she finished the article:

I live in a small Midwestern community where what I can only describe as a dire lack of Starbucks is offset by an easygoing, everybody-knows-your-name kind of charm. There’s also a good library, a bike path along the river … and church bells.

My house is a half-mile from the Presbyterian church, which means that when the wind blows just right, I can catch the church bells three times a day. Throughout this long cancer journey, I’ve gotten so good at minimizing (make that faking) to others what the anxieties of illness and the side effects of chemo feel like, that there are days—weeks even—when I’m pretty sure nobody knows what I feel like. What demons I’m staring down. What particular brand of comfort I need.

But the church bells know.

At nine a.m. they ring, “I need Thee, oh I need Thee! Every hour I need Thee!”
Yes, you’re so right! I say back to the bells. I do need him. Every hour—every minute, and you knew!

At noon they sing out: “When we have exhausted our store of endurance, when our strength has failed and the day is half done …”

I barely remember when and where I first heard those words. From the lips of my grandmother, perhaps. Surely she knew a lot about endurance. Older ladies always do. And if you listen closely, you can hear those ladies whisper about the grace … grace that has pulled them through whatever this life has dished out. The kind of grace the bells toll out as the noontime song concludes.

At six p.m., when we sit down for dinner on the front porch, the bells say, “Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear…”

Needless pain? Ooooh-doggy, I’ve had my share of that. And the church bells don’t just remind me of the pain, they give me the reason: “All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”

Today I’m feeling good about the whole cancer thing. I slept well last night. The new chemo seems to be working. There’s a fresh wind of productivity blowing through my writing. And the nausea … well, three out of four ain’t bad.

Still, as noon approaches, I can’t wait to hear what the bells might have to say. I step outside to water the pots on my porch, but really to listen.

This time it’s an 18th-century melody that’s one of my favorites.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,I will not, I will not desert to its foes;That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

I don’t want the bells to stop. I want them to play this song on and on, all afternoon and into tomorrow. Because if there’s anything that “endeavors to shake”—that endeavors to knock me clean off my moorings—it’s what I’m facing now.

But will it?

Never, say the bells. No never. No never. No never.

And suddenly I find that I’m not quite ready to kill the deer. I think I’ll keep him with me for awhile. I’ll let him roam in my garden at nine, noon and six, speaking words of peace I need to hear.

I’ll let him nestle in the grass near my porch swing—reassuring me with the same calm assurances that comforted my grandmother … and her grandmother, too.

I’ll let him gently nibble on the hostas under my bay window, and remind me just by being here that I am held safe in an enormously wonderful hand.

Wow. Wow! Remember, she’s writing this three years before the actual deer show up in our actual yard and three years before Dana actually asked “I wonder if the deer are here to take me to heaven?” Going by the picture she painted of inviting the deer into her yard, we now know the answer.

I’ll talk more about what this meant for me in future posts (this post is already long enough). Suffice to say that that night as I lay in my bed on the living room floor beside Dana’s Hospice bed reading her article, I was crying for my situation and laughing at God’s timing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sunday's Rainbow (or "Snowbow")

My good friend Joni (actually a friend since childhood!) posted a pix of Sunday's rainbow on my Facebook page. Thought I'd pass it along (above). Several folks shared with me that they saw the rainbow through snow, which would make it a "snowbow" instead of a rainbow, I guess??

I realize not everyone knows the rainbow story (as well as the deer story). I'll share on both of those soon. If you haven't checked it out before, here is a link to a news story in the Middletown Journal about the rainbow story (which happened in August 2006).

Thanks all!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Deer and Rainbows

God has used, in highly weird and wonderful ways, two divine “ambassadors” to remind all of us of His presence in this journey: deer and rainbows. The rainbows cradled us through the recurrence cancer battle; the deer have cradled me through Dane’s journey into her splendor. As we blog along, I will fill in the detail of both of these ambassadors. I shared about the deer in Dane’s memorial service (of all the God stamps, this may be the biggest of them all! It was a stamp that assured me that God is in the details of her journey to heaven). So deer and rainbows are my favorite “signs.” (and I’m not really a “signs” person). Today, I received a dose of both. It went something like this:

I made an appearance today at church, Centerville Christian Fellowship. I wanted to thank them for their help and support and begin, in an ever-so-slight way, the process of re-entry. When I arrived at the church, I grabbed a worship folder and saw that it had a rainbow on the cover, something I duly noted. But then at the end of the service, a couple people came up to me and asked, “Did you see the rainbow on the way to church this morning?” Several folks at church saw a rainbow on this cold, snowy, January Ohio morning. Unprecedented.

And then on my way home, just a few blocks from my house, my mind began to review Dana’s final moments and I let my mind go to an immature grief thought (sometimes my thinking is well-processed, other times it’s pretty primal) “How did this happen? How could Dana be gone so quickly?” And at that very moment, three deer, in single-file parade formation, graced across the road in front of me. For those at Dana’s memorial service, you’ll understand the significance. For those who weren’t at the memorial service, I’ll fill you in soon. For now, suffice to say, the timing of the deer was creepily God.

On a day when I feel like a little more of the pain is settling in, I needed these reminders.

Meanwhile, I was treated to and enjoyed BEING at the Bengal’s playoff game yesterday with some of the greatest guys in the world: Bruce, Randy, Bob, Kevin and Scott. And then today I agonized over my Packers’ anguishing loss (51-45 in overtime). As my Aunt Carolyn would so eloquently say, “Oh well.”

Friday, January 8, 2010

The First Few Days

I’ve always wondered of those who have lost a husband or wife: "How are those first weird days?" I guess there's a good chance that those of Team Dane and Bear have been wondering the same things. So I thought I’d give you some “look-ins” below to my week. In general, I move from DOING a little, to CRYING a little, to DOING a little, to CRYING a lot. I’m keeping myself busy with the tasks related to these past couple weeks: thank you notes, re-organizing (simply returning the house to normal, not the "big" re-organizing), etc. This past Sunday was my first night to fly solo in the house. It went better than expected. (BTW, Pud took just offense at my using the word “solo.” He’s like “What am I? Chopped liver?” And then he licked his lips at the thought of chopped liver). In fact, Pud has been in whatever room I am in (right now he’s sitting across from me at the dining room table), and has slept tight against me each night.

I am seeing God’s presence in a strange way: it’s uncanny all the special people I’ve met, and have spent some time with in these past few days, who have lost a spouse at a young age—even the Hospice grief counselor! This kind of support is a gift.

And here’s what’s been comforting me these past few days: I feel like I’m exploring yet another aspect of Dana’s and my love, and it caught me by surprise. I am SO GLAD for her. For many reasons. Reasons we may explore over the next weeks. That gladness breaks through at times. I might ask that you pray it breaks through a little more often.

Now to some “look-ins” to my week.

New Adventure Day 1, Monday, Jan. 4
While it’s officially 12 days since Dane went Home for Christmas, I’m considering this the first Monday (and day) of the rest of my life. With arrangements and holidays now behind me, this is the first day I’ve had to step out of my grief world and into a world that’s clicking along as if things are normal. My first “big boy” act was to head to Staples to purchase legal sized folders and holders for the new size of documents that have entered my life. It was kind of strange when the clerk made a near sarcastic comment that “Everybody’s trying to get organized at this time of year.” I knew I could make a precision-guided comment that would keep her from ever again commenting on people’s personal purchases. But I just remained silent and simply stared at the Easy Button on the counter. Of course for me to not even acknowledge a comment (I think I’m addicted to acknowledging comments) is the equivalent of a cussing out. And then I walked out the door and cried.

Thursday: First Snowed-In Night
My mind has been rehearsing many “firsts” that I’ll experience over this year: anniversary, birthdays, etc. But many “firsts” will catch me off guard, like last night, the first night to be snowed in. Dane and I LOVED to get snowed in. Sometimes we might even start the process a couple days early—a pre-emptive snowed in. And yesterday we had a perfect 4-5 inches. But as God would have it, I wasn’t alone. My cousin Carl (affectionately known as “Cousin Carl”) was in Cinci, as he is transitioning to a new job there. So he fought his way through the snow in the late afternoon, we watched the BCS Championship game (felt sorry for Colt McCoy) and Carl crashed here. It was perfect.

Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Note About the Blog Title

As I've thought about moving from Carepages to a blog, I’ve been thinking I’d do a title spin-off from C.S. Lewis’ classic, A Grief Observed, by titling the blog “My Grief Observed.” But in just these past few days (visitation, Celebration service, sympathy cards), I’ve realized that this whole deal (if you’re new, more on the “whole deal” later) is more than grief, it’s also processing, learning, listening, receiving support and ultimately somehow and some way, recovering. Grieving, processing, learning and recovering are pretty much the base elements of a journey. And so, I welcome you to observe this journey with me. But I would ask that you do more than observe. Would you please enter in, support, encourage and contribute? This is the continuation of the phrase mentioned in Dane’s memorial service, “you are my Verizon Network.” But we are all each other’s Verizon Network. This isn’t just for me. It’s for all of us who loved, were loved by, and were changed by Dana.

And a note about the photo in the blog title block: this was the Grinell Lake trail in Glacier National Park, a trip Dane and I took in the summer of 2009.